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Norwegian Orca Survey

Researching and monitoring Orcas in Norway

About Norwegian Orca Survey

During winter, several hundreds of orcas may enter the fjords of Northern Norway for feeding on herring. This does not only offer us the amazing chance to go snorkeling with orcas on our expeditions, it also creates a fantastic opportunity to census the population. Norwegian Orca Survey is a non-profit organization dedicated to researching and monitoring orcas (killer whales) in Norway. Using ground-breaking research methods and photo identification, they produce updated knowledge on the population size, demographics, diet, home range, genetics and health status. Such baseline information is necessary to inform decision makers, a first crucial step towards achieving orca conservation.

"For each passenger that travels to Northern Norway with us, we donate an amount to support the orca research."

Norwegian Orca ID Project

The photo-identification study of orcas in Norway was initiated in 1986. The project stopped in 2008 after the herring altered its winter distribution. After the herring started wintering in northern Norwegians fjords again in 2013, the orcas returned and Norwegian Orca Survey resumed the photo-identification effort.
Orcas can be identified by their dorsal fin. High-res photographs are used to analyse the shape of the dorsal fin and the scars on the adjacent grey saddle patch, which are unique for each individual orca. Sighting records of orcas are logged in a database. This data can be used to estimate population size, survival, and other demographics that are essential to monitoring the orca population. The photo-identification database of Norwegian orcas now spans over 3 decades!

Orca ID Catalogue

How you can help identifying orcas

During our expeditions to Northern Norway, you are likely to take hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. By providing high-res photographs of orca dorsal fins, along with information on where and when the photos were taken, you can contribute to the long-term Norwegian Orca ID project!
Our guides will explain how to take photos that can be used for identification. At the end of the voyage, you can deliver your photos to one of our guides who will do a quality check and sends them to Norwegian Orca Survey for identification. They will scann the images for individual orcas. Each orca identified will receive a new record in the database of where, when and with whom it was seen. More than 120,000 photos from 1,000 sightings have already been contributed since 2013. This is what we call Citizen Science! The contribution by the general public means that more orcas are likely to be identified in the study area for a more effective census, and thus monitoring, of the population.

How does Orca identification work?

To be usable for identification, a high-res photograph of an orca should show its dorsal fin (preferably the left side) and the adjacent grey saddle patch. The photo will then be cropped to emphasize the details visible on this part of the body. The combination of the shape of the dorsal fin, nicks in the leading or rear edge of the fin, as well as pigmentation and scarring patterns of the saddle patch will be used for identification. The cropped photograph will then be used as reference and visually matched against the catalogue of identified individuals so far. If a match is found, it means that this killer whale was already a known individual. It will receive a new record to its already existing sighting history. If there is no match found, it means that this individual had not been previously identified. It will then be assigned an ID code and the selected best quality photo of its fin will be added to the ID-Catalogue.

Do you have high-res photos of orca dorsal fins from previous expeditions? Submit your photographs, accompanied with date and location of the sighting.